Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

16 DECEMBER, 2010

The Best Books of 2010: Art, Design & Photography

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Analog interactivity, or what flowcharts have to do with the history of street art.

We reviewed a lot of books this year and after curating the best in Business, Life & Mind yesterday, we’re back with our 10 favorites in Art, Design & Photography — a continuation of our end-of-year best-of series. (Earlier this week, we covered the best albums and the most compelling long reads published online this year.)

TREE OF CODES

Without a shadow of a doubt, Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Tree of Codes is the most ambitious book project of the year. So ambitious, in fact, nearly all bookbinders Foer approached deemed it unmakable. But when Belgian publishing house Die Keure eventually approached the problem with a make-it-work mindset, what came out was a brilliant piece of “analog interactive storytelling” — a book created by cutting out chunks of text from Foer’s favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish author Bruno Schulz, rearranging the text to form an entirely different story. The die-cut narrative hangs in an aura of negative space for a beautiful blend of sculpture and storytelling, adding a layer of physicality to the reading experience in a way that completely reshapes your relationship with text and the printed page.

We reviewed it in full here, complete with a sneak peek of the pages and remarkable making-of footage.

I WONDER

Marian Bantjes, a remarkably diverse creator, she calls herself a ‘graphic artist’ and is an avid advocate for self-education and self-reinvention. Stefan Sagmeister, a longtime Brain Pickings favorite, calls her “one of the most innovative typographers working today” — with no exaggeration. (So innovative, in fact, that Sean “P. Diddy” Combs felt compelled to shamelessly, blatantly rip her off recently.) Her latest book, I Wonder, is a remarkable journey of visual joy and conceptual fascination, intersecting logic, beauty and quirk in an utterly breathtaking way.

Our full review, alongside stunning spreads from the book and Bantjes’ fantastic TED talk, can be found here.

EVERYTHING EXPLAINED THROUGH FLOWCHARTS

Flowcharts have risen to pop culture notoriety with their delightful intersection of geekery, design and humor. Everything Explained Through Flowcharts by standup comedian and book designer Doogie Horner is the absolute pinnacle of the hipster meme. It goes by the tagline “All of Life’s Mysteries Unraveled” and flowcharts the way to everything from world domination to getting laid to the religion that offers the best afterlife in over 200 illustrations, 40 gargantuan flowcharts and various supporting materials — essays, graphs, annotations — bound to fill your semi-secret inner geek with glee.

Our full review features a sneak peek of the quirky goodness inside, including a flowchart guide to psychoanalyzing Facebook portraits.

ALPHABETS

Our obsession with visual storytelling around the alphabet is selfevident. And nothing fuels that obsession more richly than Alphabets: A Miscellany of Letters — an ambitious exploration of the pervasiveness of letters in everyday life, tracing our visual vocabulary to its roots in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Kanji characters and other ancient alphabets with rich illustrations, beautiful graphic design and typography, found objects, graffiti and more.

X from Pin Ups

From a provocative book shaping letters out of women's bodies represented by negative space

The full review, complete with beautiful artwork from the book, was one of our most-tweeted articles this year.

DESIGNING MEDIA

Design titan Bill Moggridge has formidable credentials — director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, co-founder of design innovation powerhouse IDEO, and considered a pioneer of interaction design. IN Designing Media, he explores the evolution of mainstream media, both mass and personal, looking closely at the points of friction between old and new media models and the social norms they have sprouted.

From design to civic engagement to the real-time web, Moggridge offers a faceted and layered survey of how our media habits came to be, where they’re going, and what it all means for how we relate to the world and each other — all through 37 fascinating interviews with some of today’s greatest media innovators, including This American Life‘s Ira Glass, Pandora founder Tim Westergren, prominent New York Times design critic Alice Rawsthorn, Twitter founder @Ev, statistical stuntsman Hans Rosling, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The book comes with a companion DVD, featuring the video interviews and other media content.

Our full review, complete with sample pages, quotes, and a video interview of Ira Glass, can be found here.

TRESSPASS

We have a soft spot for both Taschen books and street art, so it’s no surprise that Trespass: A History Of Uncommissioned Urban Art — the fantastic new book by WoosterCollective founders Marc and Sara Schiller — made us swoon. From Guatemalan guerrilla gardeners to icons like Banksy and Barry McGee, the visually astounding anthology is as much an exhaustive compendium of compelling artwork as it is a modern manifesto for activism, democracy and freedom of speech.

On a related note, Exit Through the Gift Shop, the controversial and critically acclaimed Banksy documentary, is out on DVD this week and we’re giving away 10 copies!

MAD MEN ILLUSTRATED

Two years ago, we featured the wonderful work of NYC-based illustrator, designer and comedian Dyna Moe, whose Mad Men illustrations eventually charmed AMC into launching the popular Mad Men Yourself app, which has since populated countless Twitter streams with Mad-Menified avatars. This fall, Dyna Moe released her dynamite work in Mad Men: The Illustrated World — a truly, truly fantastic book that captures not only everything we love about Mad Men, but also the broader cultural landscape of the era, from fashion and style to office culture to lifehacks like hangover workarounds and secretary etiquette.

Mad Men Illustrated

We reviewed it in full here. (And for a fitting companion, try Sterling’s Gold — Roger Sterling’s priceless fictional memoir.)

THE EXQUISITE BOOK

In the 1920s, a collective of Surrealists invented exquisite corpse, a game-like collaborative creation process wherein each contributor tacks on to a composition either by following a strict rule or by being only shown what the last person has contributed. This year, a collective of Brooklyn-based designers replicated the exquisite corpse idea in The Exquisite Book: 100 Artists Play a Collaborative Game — a brilliant collaborative illustration project, two years in the making, that enlisted 100 of today’s most talented visual artist and designers to co-create a book by building on each other’s work.

Sample this gem of a book with a few wonderful spreads in our full review.

DATA FLOW 2

You didn’t think we’d go without a data visualization book, did you? And nothing hit the sweet spot this year better than Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design — the brilliant sequel 2008’s now-iconic Data Flow, a compelling anthology of work in all of data visualization as a broad and cross-disciplinary creative medium, from static infographics to dynamic interactive visualizations to physical data sculptures and beyond. The book is equal parts visual indulgence and conceptual intelligence, with artwork from and interviews of the leading creators in this field of increasing cultural relevance, as information continues to proliferate and overwhelm.

Our full review features juicy spreads from the book and an exclusive quote from data viz superstar Aaron Koblin.

BARK

Tree bark may not sound like the most exciting or relatable of subjects but, in fact, it is both. Not only do we come in contact with it constantly in our daily lives, from cinnamon to cork to chewing gum to rubber, but it’s also a hauntingly beautiful, textured piece of living matter that looks like the skin of some magnificent mythical dragon. French photographer Cedric Pollet travels the world to capture this beauty and has documented it in his gorgeous new book, Bark: An Intimate Look at the World’s Trees. The book is as much a stunning visual treat for color and photography lovers alike as it is a visceral manifesto for biodiversity and reforestation, two of today’s most pressing issues in preserving the amazing world we inherited.

Silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa), a flowering deciduous tree native to South America's tropical forests

Image by Cedric Pollet

The full review, which features a gallery of stunning images from the book, is one our most-shared articles on Facebook this year.

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15 DECEMBER, 2010

The Alphabet Refracted Through Backlit Letters Shot on iPhone

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A few weeks ago, we raved about Refraction, a brilliant visual experiment by Jesse Zanzinger. This month, he follows up with Refraction: The Alphabet — a stunning visual exploration of the alphabet, rendered in type refracted through backlit signage lettering and images on an iPhone, with voiceover by the late and great Richard Pryor from his Sesame Street ABC. Beautiful.

This is wonderful motion graphics complement to our survey of visually innovative alphabet books, one of our most popular articles in the past year.

The mesmerizing music score is the song Coloringbook by Blockhead.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

14 DECEMBER, 2010

PICKED: Exit Through the Gift Shop Giveaway

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British street artist Banksy has been vilified and glorified, reviled and revered, but one thing remains as unshakeable as his spray-can-slinging bravado: He’s a true cultural icon. Nowhere do both his genius and his penchant for controversy shine more brightly than in Exit Through the Gift Shop, the groundbreaking documentary about the elusive graffiti master and compelling larger commentary about the role of street art in contemporary culture, its oft-questioned commodification, and the even higher-order question of what constitutes talent in any art. The film swept the indie film and left audiences with eyes wide open as they took a rare look of a reclusive underground world and eyebrows raised high as they spun wild conspiracy theories about the film. (We need not say anything further — if you’ve seen it, you know what we’re talking about, and if you haven’t, anything we say would be a spoiler, that’s how good it is.)

Today is the day, that much-anticipated day that Exit Through the Gift Shop is released on DVD and Blu-ray. But wait, here’s the oh-so-special part: We’re giving away 10 copies of the DVD — complete with exclusive artwork, deleted scenes and even a “lawyer’s edit” — to Brain Pickings readers, courtesy of Wooster Collective.

To snag one, just sign up for our free weekly newsletter if you haven’t already and leave a comment below telling us what your favorite Banksy piece is. On Friday (12/17), we’ll use a random number generator to select the 10 lucky winners to walk away with a copy of the year’s most daring independent film.

Meanwhile, we’d be remiss not to point out that Exit Through the Gift Shop makes a +1 holiday gift.

We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

14 DECEMBER, 2010

2010’s Best Long Reads: Art, Design, Film & Music

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Longreads and Brain Pickings have teamed up to highlight the most fascinating in-depth stories published on the web this year, starting with Art, Design, Film & Music. Below are 10 must-reads from 2010, exploring everything from the beauty of trash to the manipulation of a TV game show to the personal and professional relationships that are forged — and shattered — in the name of art.

PLEASE ALLOW ME TO CORRECT A FEW THINGS

Please Allow Me to Correct a Few Things (Bill Wyman, Slate, Nov. 5, 2010)

Time to read: 20 minutes (5,103 words)

Not an actual letter written by Mick Jagger, responding point-by-point to offending passages in Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life. It’s better: Music critic Bill Wyman created this fictional correspondence to construct an in-depth history of Mick and Keith’s relationship.

“He’s just trying to get my attention, I think, in the end. The remaining part of the rancor comes from the fact that he knows he lost me, many years ago.”

CRIMES OF ART?

Crimes of the Art? (Michael Shnayerson, Vanity Fair, Dec. 1, 2010, 7062 words)

Time to read: 28 minutes (7,062 words)

A disturbing and heartbreaking portrait of a family grappling with its late father’s legacy: Was artist Larry Rivers a genius, an abuser, or both?

“Emma declares her father guilty of nothing less than child pornography, over a period of six years, with herself and Gwynne as his unwilling subjects.”

NEW YORK’S GARBAGE ANTHROPOLOGIST

New York’s Garbage Anthropologist (Alex Carp, The Believer, September 2010, 4009 words)

Time to read: 16 minutes (4,009 words)

There’s art in everything, even garbage. The Believer interviews Robin Nagle, the resident “garbage anthropologist” for New York City’s Department of Sanitation.

“Every single thing you see is future trash. Everything. So we are surrounded by ephemera, but we can’t acknowledge that, because it’s kind of scary.”

THE MARK OF A MASTERPIECE

The Mark of a Masterpiece (David Grann, The New Yorker, July 12, 2010, 16034 words)

Time to read: 64 minutes (16,034 words)

Peter Paul Biro uses fingerprint technology to help authenticate works of art–and writer David Grann puts the entire process under a microscope.

“When I asked Biro if he worried that his method might be flawed, he said that during nearly two decades of fingerprint examinations he had ‘not made one mistake.’ He added, ‘I take a long time and I don’t allow myself to be rushed.'”

STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY: THE X FACTOR

Stephen Tobolowsky: The X Factor, Part One (Stephen Tobolowsky, The Awl, Aug. 2010, 4021 words)

Time to read: 16 minutes (4,021 words)

Character actor Stephen Tobolowsky is probably best known as Ned Ryerson from the movie Groundhog Day, and as Sandy Ryerson on the Fox show Glee. Few stories offer a more realistic glimpse of an actor’s life and what it’s like to audition in Hollywood. (Read part two here.)

“Message to young actors: When you first come to L.A. and you start to despair, remember the X-Factor. Hollywood is not like school. There is no syllabus and there are no grades-here you can succeed by complete failure.”

TV’S CROWNING MOMENT OF AWESOME

TV’s Crowning Moment of Awesome (Chris Jones, Esquire, Aug. 1, 2010, 5085 words)

Time to read: 20 minutes (5,085 words)

Esquire’s Chris Jones is on many Longreads best-of lists for his incredible profile of Roger Ebert (Click here to read it), but let’s not forget his investigation into a mysterious win on TV’s The Price Is Right. How, exactly, did Terry Kneiss make history by guessing the exact value of his Showcase Showdown?

“Terry believed that his brain and his eyes and his strong, deep voice made him the perfect vessel for exploiting weakness, for capitalizing on the imperfections of others — for seeing in their patterns an opportunity, a chance for him to break the game.”

AND GOD CREATED CONTROVERSY

And God Created Controversy (Jon Ronson, The Guardian, Oct. 9, 2010, 3141 words)

Time to read: 13 minutes (3,141 words)

If you aren’t a hardcore Juggalo, you can at least thank the Insane Clown Posse for inspiring some of the most bizarre stories of the past year. This one supposedly outs them as evangelical Christians. (See also: Inside the Gathering of the Juggalos, by Camille Dodero, Village Voice.)

“I suddenly wonder, halfway through our interview, if I am looking at two men in clown make-up who are suffering from depression.”

THE MAN WHO MAKES YOUR iPHONE

Apple & Design: The Man Who Makes Your iPhone (Frederik Balfour and Tim Culpan, Businessweek, Sept. 9, 2010, 5204 words)

Time to read: 21 minutes (5,204 words)

… paired with …

INTERVIEW WITH JOHN SCULLEY

Interview with John Sculley (Leander Kahney, Cult of Mac, Oct. 14, 2010, 8322 words)

Time to read: 33 minutes (8,322 words)

Two men who have worked close to Steve Jobs, in different ways: The first is a profile of Terry Gou, CEO of Foxconn, the China-based manufacturer whose 300,000 employees build the iPhone and other products. The second is an interview with former Apple CEO John Sculley, who looks back on his time working with Jobs and the mistakes he made.

“[Steve Jobs] was a person of huge vision. But he was also a person that believed in the precise detail of every step. He was methodical and careful about everything — a perfectionist to the end.”

CHERAYLA DAVIS: AMATEUR

Cherayla Davis: Amateur (Paul Hiebert, The Awl, Oct. 26, 2010, 2477 words)

Time to read: 10 minutes (2,477 words)

One aspiring singer’s story of near-misses and changing priorities–culminating in a performance at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night.

“‘I was tired of being poor, and a lot of people have to be poor before they make it, but I’m just not willing to do that,’ Cherayla said. ‘You know how someone says “You’re so talented, you’re going to be the next _______!” I don’t receive that anymore from people, and I don’t want that.'”

See more Longreads 2010 “best-of” lists here.

Mark Armstrong is a digital strategist, writer and founder of Longreads, a community and Twitter service highlighting the best long-form stories on the web. His thoughts about the future of publishing and content can be found here.

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